Exclusions policy under fire

24th January 1997 at 00:00
Staffing cuts condemned as Robertson's Pounds 1m initiative is dismissed as 'a drop in the ocean'.

The Pounds 1 million Scottish Office scheme to promote alternatives to exclusion, announced last week, has been labelled "a drop in the ocean" by council and union leaders who say authorities are being forced to slash the staffing levels that are needed to tackle indiscipline and deprivation.

Falkirk, for example, is currently drawing up plans to axe around 30 teachers specifically appointed to improve learning, discipline and behaviour, particularly in areas of deprivation. Government spending limits are blamed.

Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, trumpeted the new initiative on exclusions at a conference in Edinburgh last Friday but was immediately condemned for sanctioning cuts to core education budgets while launching publicity-seeking initiatives.

Danny McDonald, a Dundee secondary teacher who chairs the Educational Institute of Scotland's committee on discipline, said councils that had committed funds were being forced to cut back. "In Dundee, three off-site units and a significant number of in-school units are under threat," Mr McDonald said.

The Pounds 1 million had to be set against cuts in local authority education budgets of around Pounds 160 million over this year and next. "The net effect will be to drive up class sizes, reduce the number of teachers and force promoted staff to spend more time in classroom and less dealing with indiscipline. We will probably see the demise of integration and support units in schools. All of this will give rise to greater indiscipline," he stated.

Barbara Clark, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association and a Bo'ness guidance teacher, said the minister's scheme did not "sit well with the cuts and what is actually happening in schools". Mrs Clark ran a Central Region initiative on preventing exclusion and improving attendance before it was axed due to budgetary pressures. The cost was the salary of one assistant head.

She said: "The project was actually working and it involved the children's panel, schools, police, psychological services, social work and parents. I worked with 40-50 kids, from primary to secondary, and one of the things we did was support children in their efforts to attend school."

Kevin Gavin, director of education in Moray, said: "There is a real threat to the flexible arrangements that are needed to support the most vulnerable. It is a people-intensive business dealing with behaviour modification."

Margaret Burnell, senior depute director of education in East Ayrshire, was another who emphasised the impact of staff reductions. "There are bound to be implications for intensive support for pupils with learning difficulties and behavioural problems."

Mr Robertson revealed in his speech that he was making Pounds 1 million available in 1997-98 and in subsequent years to deal with serious and persistent disciplinary problems. "The objective of this new grant scheme is to stimulate and support the development of practical initiatives as alternatives to exclusion," he said. "The grant scheme will focus on more disruptive pupils and measures to reconcile them with school before exclusion becomes unavoidable."

The minister also announced a circular advising authorities to introduce procedures for reporting, recording and monitoring incidents of violence against teachers, a practice initiated by the former Tayside and Strathclyde Regions.

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